Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Guardians

To be honest, I thought my first blog on the trail would be filled with an abundance of waxing poetic about the beauty of the land. About solitude, inner peace, and about the friendships I had built with the other hikers that I met along the way. That it would be filled with tales of the great expanse of wilderness, about the tough climb, and the intrinsic lessons this journey has taught me thus far. But the reality is, although those stories need to be told, this tale is about what should have been the last two grueling miles of the trail my first day out, and the two non-hikers who made it an absolute pleasure instead and who managed to become my good friends along the way. And so the story goes as follows:
On Tuesday I left the small town of Milngavie (pronounced Mil-guy) which bore the concrete post marking the beginning of the West Highland Way. Before my departure I helped capture the photographs and still frames of the other hikers posing for their cherished memories, and they for me. I immediately became aware that I would not be alone on this part of the journey. I did indeed come across many people along the Way. I also came across the same hikers again and again periodically throughout out the day. It was a beautiful morning, the the sun was shining, the scenery was spectacular, and the Way an easy jaunt, at least at first.
It quickly became apparent to me that most hikers were doing, at the very least, the first 12 miles out to Drymen, and some, the more adventurous ones, beyond. After thoroughly enjoying the first 6 miles, I realized that I too could make it a bit further and headed for Drymen with the rest of the herd. About ten miles in, I decided that I may have bitten off more than I could chew. I had reached my proposed camp site, and what I thought would be my accommodations for the evening, when I realized that was not going to be the case. The campsite was over grown from disuse and apparently closed. Although my body ached and my feet screamed at me 'no more,' I had no choice but to move forward. Within a few minutes I ran upon
Monica and Pierre, who were from France, (It was they who had taken my picture in Milngavie) sitting in a little town called Gartness which consisted of three dwellings; one of which had a small refrigerator out front with a sign that read “Honesty Box.” The fridge, with the box sitting atop of it, was filled with chocolates, water and sodas. We all took what we needed, paid the box, and sat upon a stone wall gratefully eating our treats and talking about the trail. I would run into them again later on, but that is not the story that needs telling. Although I set off before them, they once again over took me and were out of sight before long. (as was par for the course for most of the hikers that I had met.) 'Two more miles' I thought as I continued to
drag myself, my pack (that now felt like it weighed 100 pounds), and my weary legs up the next gigantic mountain. Okay, so it was really just a little hill on a road, but it felt like a gigantic mountain. Again I found myself alone at the back of the pack, slogging along, trying to enjoy the scenery through my tired eyes and aching everything. I was thinking to myself as I walked, how tedious the last miles had become, when I heard voices that seemed to appear out of nowhere. Just moments before I had looked back and saw no one
coming up the long road behind me, but there they were none the less. Behind me, coming up the hill, were two older men carrying day packs, as most sensible hikers did. They were smiling and laughing and speaking amicably among themselves. I stopped and waited for them to over take me and said my perfunctory 'hello' as they pulled along side. I could immediately tell they were Scottish as they returned a “ello” with a smile. We made our way down the road together. I naturally assumed that they would pull away as most other hikers did, after a few minutes of exchanging pleasantries. This however, was not to be the case. “Are you hiking the Way then?” One of them asked me.
“Yes, yes I am. Are you?”
“Ahhh, no we live here. We just like ta walk ya know.” (now for the rest of this story just think of Sean Connery's thick guttural Scottish accent when you read these gentleman's lines It will lose something in the translation if ya don't) “What's ya name?”
“I'm Kristine,”
I'm-a David, Kristine, this-'ere is Michael.” We all stood in the middle of the road and shook hands. “So how far have ya come taday, Kristine?”
I responded, “Only about 10 miles, but I'm knackered.” The three of us continued down the road chatting about this and that as we went. We paused at the top of the hill to catch our breath and enjoy the view. Michael took off his pack and began rummaging about in it. “hey Kristine woulda like a beer?”
I just looked at him,”huh?”
“A beer Kristine? Woulda lika beer?” Michael repeated, digging several Budweiser out of his pack. Now I have had many people offer me a beer in a pub while Scotland or Ireland, but on a dirt road, out of a backpack, in the middle of nowhere Scotland? I have to say I was a tad taken a back. Pleasantly so 'acourse. “Why thank you but, but, I can't take your beer...”
“Whey-not? We have plenty din't we, David?”
“Aye, aye, sure we do. How about a smoke then too, Michael?” Michael smiled and handed me a bottle of Budweiser, then out of his backpack he pulled this large, crumpled up joint and placed it casually in crook of his grin. I just looked back at him and smiled, popped the top on my beer, and shook my head with delight.
The thing is, instead walking the last two miles of that day with my head down, chugging away, just trying to make it the last bit in sheer desperation to just get where was going, I found myself casually strolling along a Scottish country road, drinking a Budweiser, watching two Scots getting high, while giving me the grand tour. David used my name each time he addressed me. And he was, without doubt, a wealth of information. “So ya see here Kristine, this here use to be a Roman encampment here... And ya see this Kristine? This is used for triangulation...stand here Kristine then and ya can just see Loch Lomond there...So where ya going to stay tonight, Kristine?” And so it went. Strolling, drinking and smoking, pointing and laughing all along the way.
After a bit some familiar hikers caught up with us. We all strolled along down the hill heading toward Drymen until eventually the hikers went on to town and I was left wondering where I was going to be able to pitch my tent. “So you sleeping un ya tent are ya then, Kristine?”
Yes. I am if I can find a place to pitch it.”
“Aye, well not ta worry Kristine, Michael and I we know where ya can pitch it din't we Michael?”
“Aye” Michael replied. “Lets ge' down here on the Way and we'll smoke anuther one and I'll show ya.” We ambled off the road along the Way, across a stream, and down into a place that was protected from the wind, was right along said stream, a safe distance from the trail and the roadway and, had a rope swing tied to a giant oak tree. I un-shouldered my pack and set upon the green, Scottish grass that peeled up the hill as far as the eye could see. It was perfect. Michael took out another joint and David handed me another beer
. David then proceeded to climb up on the swing which was hanging near the brook and launched himself off the bank. And so it went. Michael got high, I sipped my beer in quiet delight, and David swung to and fro on his rope swing, twirling and giggling. And so, somewhere near a small Scottish town, in the gentle twilight of a Celtic afternoon, one could hear our laughter echoing out across the hills and valleys.


All good things they say, have to come to an end, as did these few precious hours that David, Michael and I spent together. Michael indicated it was time to move on. He asked if I had enough food. Although I indicated to him that I did, he none the less left me the meats, buttered rolls and fresh tomatoes they had
brought for themselves to munch upon along their walk. David left me another beer to wash it all down with. I hugged them tight before they left and thank them for all they had done for me. It was Michael who turned back towards me and replied, with just a hint of a twinkle in his eye, “it's what we do Kristine. We all have ta look out for one another.” And with that simple statement, the guardians made their way up out of the glen, over the lush green hillside, and disappeared into the fading sunlight.



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